Pink Daydream Q&A With Ariya Sonethavy

Hey Ariya! Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? 

Hey! I’m Ariya, I’m 21 years old and I’m currently a senior at UMass Amherst studying Communications along with a Chinese minor and a Film Studies certificate. I’m originally from Rhode Island but I’ve lived in Massachusetts since I was about ten.

On your website, your bio says that you “make everything with the color red in mind.” I think that really shines through in your experimental film, “bubbling froth.” What does the color red mean to you? How does the red and pink color palette of “bubbling froth” connect to the film as a whole?

I’ve been obsessed with the color red since high school. Maybe because I was listening to Taylor Swift’s Red a lot and I was wearing a lot of red (I still do). I think the color represents intensity and the tumultuousness of… any emotion. Love, anger, passion. I like how red contains pinks and beiges, which is what I’m really drawn to when I make any kind of visual art. The red and pink color palette of “bubbling froth” is meant to embody intimacy in its most raw form — it’s an experimental short about the franticness of love, how meeting someone new makes you feel like you’re “blooming” (hence the second title card). The pinker tones of the film capture the comedown of these intense feelings as well.

© Ariya Sonethavy

The spacey synth and bell sounds of “bubbling froth” are captivating! What was the process behind selecting those sounds for the film? 

© Ariya Sonethavy

So the first song in it is Witchery Glamour Spell by Deerhoof, which I wanted to use for the beginning to convey this type of whimsical frenzy, which is obviously portrayed in the editing. Otherwise, I was honestly just listening to a lot of ambient music when I was conceiving the idea for this short! I was in an experimental film class this past fall and I was listening to a lot of twinkly synth music. I think I came across Ana Roxanne’s music from my friend Veronica (who also stars in the film) and her music is just so minimal and sweet that I wanted to use it to depict this feeling of hypnotizing mysticism. It also works really well with my close-up shots. It’s supposed to depict what it feels like to be close to someone.

Do you think you’d ever put one of your boy crush tracks in one of your films? Your track, “Milk” is really dreamy. I feel like the synth-sounds, vocal-chops, and found-sound clips in that track would be perfect in a film like “bubbling froth.” 

© Boy Crush

Oh, god, maybe! The soundbite of me and Veronica talking about meat in that song is actually cut from this audio that I used for another film called Smothered! “Milk” is one of the few songs I’m proud of — I literally don’t know what’s going on when I open Logic Pro. I really like making minimal pop songs that are either drenched with reverb or contain three major 7 chords. I think I might try to make music for an upcoming film that I’m working on at the moment, but in collaboration with my good friend Alex. We’ve been trying to start a band for a like year.

How does your background in Film Studies affect your paintings, if at all?

I think my interest in film is shown through my sketchbook mostly — I remember being sixteen and printing/cutting out screencaps from movies like Paris, Texas and My Own Private Idaho just to journal and draw on top of them. However, when I make digital paintings, I usually want to emphasize the beauty of Asian women since they’re mostly portrait style. My paintings are inspired by a lot of surrealism. It’s funny because the way I taught myself to draw was to take on this hyperrealistic style, which got boring after realizing how much pressure that is to make things perfect. That’s why I like to throw in… spins wheel… half a cyborg face or weird body horror. I’m really into horror movies lately. Throwing in touches like that also push me towards changing my art style because I’m definitely a perfectionist when it comes to illustrating human anatomy.

© Ariya Sonethavy

I noticed that throughout your work, there’s a recurring design of a little white bunny separated into three pieces. It’s so cool! What’s the significance of this little white, three-pieced bunny?

That’s just a little doodle that I did a while ago that I decided to use for my website. Then I kept drawing bunnies, like constantly, after that! It’s in three pieces for the same reason I incorporate body horror in a lot of my drawings and paintings — I feel like cutting things apart and allowing gore to look beautiful (in an artistic way) makes things more raw.

© Ariya Sonethavy

Can you talk a little bit about the process behind creating your digital paintings?

I use a Wacom tablet and Photoshop! Usually I have a reference photo that I sketch/trace over depending on how well I’m doing at drawing on a given day, then I block in color and build up the layers on Photoshop until it’s how I want it. I’m constantly switching my methods though — before I would paint everything at once on one layer kind of like this artist Kemi Mai who I was inspired by a few years ago. Now that I’ve seen a lot of people make digital portraits on Instagram and such, I’ve been more prone to experimenting with the way I paint so I can understand color theory and my own abilities better.

A lot of your digital paintings include cyborg, dystopian, surreal imagery. What’s the inspiration behind this imagery? How do you feel about Ex Machina?

I must’ve went through a phase, man. I really love Rina Sawayama which is why I painted her and decided to paint her as a cyborg because this time a year ago I think I was writing a paper on techno-orientalism, which is basically the way Asian people are fetishized in Western sci-fi films. I’m also inspired by a lot of Asian cinema and the idea of the body being a machine, and for my painting of Rina I think I was especially thinking lots about how having a body doesn’t feel real sometimes, like, as someone socialized as a girl. It feels like an interesting concept to unpack when you think about the doom of capitalism and how our world is constantly evolving and sometimes feeling so overwhelmed by everything that maybe you’re a cyborg! Shoutout Donna Haraway. Also, I love Ex Machina. I could literally write a dissertation on that film alone about its implications for technology/female gaze shit/gender stuff/self-harm stuff etc. If you let me talk about this movie right now, we’d be here all day!

© Ariya Sonethavy
© Ariya Sonethavy

Any shoutouts or love that you wanna spread?

All my friends in Western Mass that I love very much! Specifically, my best friend and roommate Alex who puts up with my brain constantly overflowing with amorphous substances. Also, Bong Joon Ho for winning four Oscars for Parasite and Wong Kar-Wai for influencing every film and art thing I’ve ever made since 2014.  

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